Fossil-free Stanford for the win: The Farm to divest from coal

In a huge win for the “Go Fossil Free” campaign and the students who led it, Stanford University’s Board of Trustees announced Tuesday that they are divesting from coal companies. Stanford, which has a roughly $18 billion endowment, is far and away the largest and most influential university to make such a move to untangle itself from the coal industry.

The resolution means that Stanford will not directly invest in roughly 100 publicly traded companies for which coal extraction is the primary business, and will divest of any current direct holdings in such companies.

“Stanford has a responsibility as a global citizen to promote sustainability for our planet, and we work intensively to do so through our research, our educational programs and our campus operations,” said Stanford President John Hennessy. “The university’s review has concluded that coal is one of the most carbon-intensive methods of energy generation and that other sources can be readily substituted for it. Moving away from coal in the investment context is a small, but constructive, step while work continues, at Stanford and elsewhere, to develop broadly viable sustainable energy solutions for the future.”

Tom Steyer, the billionaire-turned-climate-activist, is the vice-chair of Stanford’s Board of Trustees, but it’s not clear what role he played in the decision-making process. Regardless, student activists are thrilled.

“This is groundbreaking,” said Michael Peñuelas, a lead student organizer for Fossil Free Stanford, in an email Tuesday. “We don’t know the details of the trustee process itself. We know that the Advisory Panel on Investment Responsibility and Licensing (APIRL) that we’d been working with for a year now, meeting regularly, made its recommendation in the last week or so to the Subcommittee on Investment Responsibility (SCIR) of the Board of Trustees (BoT). The BoT began its deliberation process last week and completed that today in a remote voting process from across the country.”

“We don’t know which trustees were involved in which parts of the vote, but to have it pass all three bodies so quickly would imply that there is widespread support for the move among faculty, administrators, and BoT members involved in the voting processes.”

Much of the divestment effort has focused on colleges, cities, religious institutions and private foundations. But individual investors are also taking a closer look at their portfolios.

A Fossil Free Stanford protest on campus. Photo via the Fossil Free Stanford Facebook page.


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  • RegularGuy55

    Nothing like a pointless symbolic gesture to grab a headline.

    When Stanford bans all fossil-fueled vehicles from campus, call me.

    When Stanford electrifies and heats the campus using only solar and wind power, call me.

    Otherwise, quit putting up eyewash and pretending it matters.

    • Steve Hammill

      Well said.

      I thought universities were supposed to teach people to be smart, but I guess students can learn from stupidity too.

    • Disco Mike

      Stanford is in the process of converting heating to geothermal power, and is a leader in sustainable technology both on and off campus.

      • RegularGuy55

        Nice try, but like I said, when Stanford bans all fossil-fueled vehicles from the campus, call me.

        • Disco Mike

          Stanford, like other environmentally conscious universities, does participate in the campus car ban . Also parking has been reduced every year for the last two decades and will likely be eliminated entirely in the near future due to pressure from Santa Clara county, one of the most aggressive counties on environmental conservation efforts in the country. Plus, no other institution that I know of promotes a complete fossil fueled car ban so that makes you a troll, and I wont be continuing to provide you with details on Stanford’s programs.

          • RegularGuy55

            The ‘ban’ you cited prohibits freshman from having a car on campus.
            That’s the same ‘ban’ that was in place when I was a freshman during the
            Carter administration. Not exactly news.

            And lastly, I wasn’t
            asking about any other institution, only about Stanford. Remember,
            Stanford decided to grab some ‘green’ headlines by their symbolic
            ‘no-coal’ investment rule. That made me curious about their other

            And now I know. There’s a decades-old ban on freshmen having cars, and there’s a hole being dug outside your office. Got it.

            I also learned that the University bribes students and staff to ‘go green’ with cash (greenbacks?).

      • RegularGuy55

        I went looking for some press release, some announcement or pronouncement, saying that Stanford is converting the campus to geothermal heating, and I came up empty.

        The university has hosted symposiums and presented research papers on the topic, but I can’t find anything about a campus conversion.

        So, ‘Disco Mike’, can you point me to an article that talks about this conversion?

        • Disco Mike

          The Stanford hot water project will open up the possibility of using geothermal energy although an announcement to that effect has not been made, but the digging of a geothermal well outside my office has made considerable noise. I’ll stop over there and take some pictures if you’re so desperate for evidence to that effect.

          • RegularGuy55

            Desperate? Not the least. When someone makes a statement – like you did – and I am unable to verify it, even after much digging (pun intended), I doubt their veracity.

            That skepticism also makes me wonder why the university wouldn’t have issued a big-time press release announcing a geothermal project. The only ‘evidence’ we have is your anecdotal account of digging going on.

            And you have the nerve to call ME a ‘troll’?

  • Tesla_X

    They could have kept their old power plant, an island of energy security for times of adversity.

    It’s all fun and games till the grid goes down, then we’ll see how ‘sustainable’ their energy plans really are.

    Mother Nature killed the dinosaurs, and she does not care how green you are.